Dez Fifer

Amanda Shie

Asian Studies & Political Science
Minor in Human Rights, History, & Management

 In a conversation with THiNK Magazine editor David Ching, Shie discussed how she chose her majors and minors, her experiences as an Asian studies major, and her advice for high school students who may be considering Asian studies. Here are excerpts from their conversation:


Q: How did you choose the Asian studies major?

A: Last year I was actually an aviation management major, but I knew I wanted to take a foreign language when I got to college. I took Latin in high school, but I wanted to take something people spoke. I wanted to do something that was opposite to Latin, so I chose Chinese. I took that the first semester and immediately I loved it and I wanted to keep learning about culture, history, more about the language and things like that. So by second semester, I decided I was going to do something with either Chinese or Asian studies in general.


Q: What are some of the activities you have participated in that relate to the Asian studies major?

A: Over the summer, I spent seven weeks in some part of China or another. The first two weeks was on a Maymester hosted by Liberal Arts and the College of Engineering for intercultural teamwork in China. We bounced around to Shanghai, Harbin, and Beijing for two weeks talking to students in universities and trying to analyze cultural differences between the U.S. and China. And then later that summer I had five weeks in Macau where I worked as an English-speaking program assistant.

 In both of those cases, it was really interesting to experience life as a minority. Obviously I was very markedly different from everyone else. When I was in mainland China, people would stare at me, ask me for pictures, treat me like a celebrity. In Macau, it was a little more relaxed, but it was still like if I tried to talk to someone, no one spoke English or Mandarin, so I was out of luck on that one. It was interesting trying to figure out how to communicate, how to express the things I wanted without being able to use the language, and sometimes not even having Wi-Fi or data or anything like that.

 It was very interesting culturally. I learned a lot about teaching, a lot about intercultural relationships, and just a little bit more about the region I’m studying and how things work over there. It’s one thing to see it in a textbook and in class and it’s another thing to experience it. Especially for China, there were a lot of misconceptions that I had: that it was very Communist, that everybody just blindly believed what the government said. But generalizations aren’t always the case for everybody.


Q: Would you say you speak it fluently at this point?

A: When anyone asks me, I count it as a half-language. I’m never certain how to tell if you’re fluent or anything like that. When I’m speaking under pressure, it’s just terrible, but I can translate relatively well.


Q: What is your long-term plan behind the different majors and minors you selected?

A: My main long-term goal that inspired me to do political science and Asian studies is to hopefully be a diplomat or an ambassador, ideally to a Chinese-speaking country because otherwise why am I learning this. I am very invested in international relations, which is why I’m concentrating in that, and I really want to specialize in East Asia and China in general, and interactions between the U.S. and China.

 Within that, I’m also interested in the human rights aspect of things just because I’m a very emotional person and that’s where I end up focusing because I can’t do numbers. I’m like, ‘Emotions are doable.’ With management, I’m trying to stay practical in things. If being a diplomat doesn’t work out, because obviously public service is not always the easiest thing to get into, then I am considering careers in museum work and translation, and I figured the management minor would always help regardless of what position I end up in. And I actually just tacked on the history minor this past week because I found out I was able to do it and I, again, just really enjoy it.


Q: If a junior or senior in high school who might be considering Asian studies asked for your advice, what would you tell them?

A: I would say the best thing about being an Asian studies major is that you can combine it with almost everything pretty easily, especially with the Degree Plus that we have now. So if you’re passionate in something, maybe it is just a hobby for you, but honestly there’s so much more you can get out of it, especially doing intercultural things. I think that’s really undervalued as is. I didn’t even learn a foreign language until middle school and I feel like I wasted all that time where I could have had a really nice spongy brain picking up all these language skills.

 It’s just a completely different worldview. I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s life-changing. I would not have had these opportunities if I did not go for Asian studies. I think a big part of that is that in the College of Liberal Arts, one of the things they told me on my tour is that it’s like a small-college experience in a big college. So you get the benefits of brand-name recognition and having a lot of students to interact with in a diverse population, but you also get very hands-on interaction with my professors. I’ve had classes where I’ve only had like 12 other students in there and being able to connect with the director of the program, even, they’re very open and engaging. They’re always open to hear ideas and connect with you. Sometimes I talk to my professors about nothing when I got to their office hours.

 For me there’s a difference between what you want to do and what you have to do. There are always ways to succeed. It’s just a matter of how much you’re willing to strive for it. Obviously you don’t have to do two majors, three minors, and a certificate like me, but it’s putting yourself out there, experiencing new things, experiencing the world.

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